A Milk Can Man

Poor Dad was in the wrong business.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

Once my husband’s military tour ended, we moved from Ohio, my home state, to his, California. My folks and I then started calling each other every Sunday night at 6:00 to share news about family and friends.

During one late-Winter call, Dad stunned us with a surprise announcement: “Well, it’s official. I’ve sold our herd of Guernseys and hauled all the milk stools, pails, and cans to the junkyard. After 30 years, your mom and I have retired from dairy farming.”

I invited my newly retired parents to come visit. I told them how wonderful the climate was—sunny and warm during the day, but cool at night. Flowers and shrubs bloomed all year around.

“You’re asking $50 for an old dented milk can?” Dad blurted.
“It’s just a piece of junk!”

“You’ll love the California sunshine,” I chuckled.

Mom and Dad, suffering from cabin fever and winter doldrums, eagerly accepted my invitation. They crossed the country by train, one of their life-long dreams. When their train arrived, I overheard all the best wishes they received from fellow passengers. It seemed like everyone knew it was Mom and Dad’s first trip to California.

The next morning, Mom headed to the backyard to look at my shrubs and flowers, while Dad went for a walk to check out our new neighborhood. Dad liked antiques. He had no trouble finding the neighborhood antique shop.

He was idly wandering through it when he found an old, beat-up milk can on display. Dad was dumbstruck. It was identical to the ones he’d used to store the milk from his cows. He blurted to the owner, “You’re asking $50 for an old dented milk can? It’s just a piece of junk. What’s it doing in your antique shop?”

The owner laughed and told Dad that old milk cans were considered collectibles. Dad was so annoyed he left the store!

When he returned home, I could tell he was upset. Before I could ask what was wrong, he proceeded to tell Mom and me what had happened. “That man knows absolutely nothing about antiques,” he huffed.

I interrupted his diatribe. “Mom, Dad, grab your coats. We’re going for a ride downtown.”

I drove them to a nearby craft and consignment store that featured the wares of 100 artists. Then I led Dad to the booth of an artist I know who specializes in painting scenes on old milk cans, transforming them into stunning pieces of art. Some had been turned into planters and had luscious red, orange, and yellow nasturtiums cascading over their rims. Each can sold for $125.

“How lovely,” Mom gushed. “The old adage is true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

I looked at Dad. “Well,” I said, “What do you think now?”

Dad stared at the cans, then shook his head and said, “All those years I spent selling milk? I was in the wrong business. I should have just been selling the cans.”

This article was published originally in 2019, in GreenPrints Issue #117.


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